image credit: Women’s Camouflage Corps At Work (detail), July 13, 1918, Western Newspaper Union Photo Service
September 12 - October 11, 2014
Opening Reception Friday September 12th 7-9 pm
Organized by Beth Stuart
Camoufleurs is an exhibition of new work by Kathleen Ritter that explores forms of encoded communication, camouflage and subterfuge. The project weaves together research into intersecting histories of war, avant-garde movements in art and poetry, the advent of photography and cinema alongside women’s suffrage and feminism in the early half of the twentieth century. From this body of research, Ritter has excavated notable patterns and abstract forms, film footage and auditory cues, and writing systems a century old, to explore the sensory residue of history, bringing forward material from a distant past as potential ciphers for the present.
The title of the exhibition is taken from the term used to describe those who designed camouflage for use in the military—camoufleurs—many of whom were artists and women. Grafted from research into their activities, a painted mural covers the exterior of G Gallery in an asymmetrical maze of black and white shapes based on the camouflage patterns widely used on allied naval ships during WWI. Disruptive—or dazzle—camouflage was designed to create confusion and visual fatigue on the part of periscope operators, theoretically causing their aim to falter. This particular pattern is drawn from an archival photograph showing the Women’s Camouflage Corps painting an example of dazzle camouflage on a landlocked boat used as a recruiting station in downtown New York City in 1918.
Inside the gallery, a video installation, titled Siren (2014), appropriates a controversial scene featuring Hedy Lamarr from the silent 1933 film Extase and marries it to the soundtrack from George Antheil’s 1924 avant-garde composition Ballet méchanique. With the climax of the footage timed to coincide with the sound of a whirling hand-crank siren, looped endlessly and played back on a streaming wireless network, the installation is affectual response to Lamarr and Antheil’s landmark invention of a “Secret Communication System,” widely known today as frequency hopping, the basis of wireless communication technology.
Manifesto (2014) is a translation of a Mina Loy’s 1914 “Feminist Manifesto” into shorthand. Written at the outset of the war and after an encounter with F.T. Marinetti, Loy’s call for equality is a direct attack on the Futurist’s self-proclaimed ‘scorn for women’. Her response captures the tenor of the time: it is explosive and polemical, punctuated by exclamation marks and dashes, enlarged type and underlines. This edition of Loy’s manifesto is transcribed into shorthand, a form of abbreviated writing used to quickly record speech—the lingua franca of secretaries and reporters. Printed as an unlimited edition on newsprint, visitors are invited to take copies and post them in the streets.
Sleights of hand, elaborate diversions, hiding in plain sight—these tactics lend the works in Camoufleurs a sly humour and mordant wit. An ecstatic moment becomes an operatic emergency. An urgent message is distributed en masse—in an all but obsolete language. Ritter’s practice skips across centuries and technologies, signaling the present with secret knowledge from the past, knowledge that has been there all along.
Kathleen Ritter is an artist based in Vancouver and Paris. She was an artist in residence at La Cité Internationale des Arts, Paris, in 2013. Her art practice broadly explores questions of visibility, especially in relation to systems of power, language and technology. Working across mediums of video, sound and print, Ritter investigates relationships between politics and aesthetics, between specific histories and contemporary experience, and between the space of the museum and the street.
In addition Ritter has organized exhibitions in Canada and abroad. She was a curatorial advisor for the exhibition Where do I end and you begin, Edinburgh Art Festival, Scotland, in 2014. From 2007 to 2012, she was the Associate Curator at the Vancouver Art Gallery where she organized the exhibitions How Soon Is Now, Beat Nation: Art, Hip Hop and Aboriginal Culture (with Tania Willard), Rebecca Belmore: Rising to the Occasion (with Daina Augaitis) and commissioned public artworks for Offsite by Kota Ezawa, Damian Moppett, Heather and Ivan Morison, and Elspeth Pratt. Her writing on contemporary art has appeared in ESSE, Prefix Photo, and Fillip as well as in numerous catalogues.
The artist acknowledges the support of the Canada Council for the Arts and the British Columbia Arts Council. The artist greatly appreciates support for travel from David Mirvish.
This exhibition was made possible with the generous assistance of many individuals. The artist would like to thank Beth Stuart for organizing the exhibition; the team of volunteers who executed the mural: Dustin Wilson, Aryen Hoekstra, Ella McGeough, Derek Sullivan, Matthew Schust, Nestor Kruger, Ryan Park, Juliane Foronda, Jessica Eisner, Susannah Van der Zaag; and Tanya Battel for her shorthand transcriptions.